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Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

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Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Overview

Okefenokee is a vast bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor. Peat deposits, up to 15 feet thick, cover much of the swamp floor. These deposits are so unstable in spots that one can cause trees and surrounding bushes to tremble by stomping the surface. In fact, Okefenokee is a European rendition of the Indian words meaning "land of the trembling earth."

The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored from the tannic acid released by decaying vegetation. The principle outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp's southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary's River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.

The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested terrain. Prairies cover about 60,000 acres of the swamp. Once forested, these expanses of marsh were created during periods of severe drought when fires burned out vegetation and the top layers of peat. The prairies harbor a variety of wading birds: herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns.

The swamp remains one of the oldest and most well preserved freshwater areas in America. In all, the swamp covers an area of 38 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west.

Paddle the Red Trail
A canoe is the best way to get into the center of the action. The swamp is criss-crossed with canoe trails, providing options ranging from day trips to multi-day wilderness excursions. The Red Trail is a likely candidate for a good trip. It ventures through all of the swamp's environments: prairies, shrub scrub, cypress forest. But listen, there's not a dud on the list. If you want to spend the night in the swamp, you must obtain a permit, which can be in high demand. An option is to layover in Stephen Foster Park, which has an excellent campground. Be sure to get up before dawn to take in the early morning wildlife activity.

More on paddling in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Take in the Wildlife
Wildlife abounds in the Okefenokee year-round. Sandhill cranes, ducks and other migratory birds are most numerous from November through March. Otter are commonly seen during cold weather when alligators are relatively inactive. Alligators are active in the summer and are mostly observed sunning on banks.

Bird the Boardwalks
At dusk the East Entrance is besieged by folks bearing binoculars and field guides. If you want to stay on solid ground, we recommend visiting the east or the north entrances. The east entrance has 2.5 miles of hiking trails and a 4,000-foot boardwalk into the swamp. For a bird's eye view, the entrance has two observation towers. This is also the location of the refuge headquarters and the Suwannee Canal Recreation Concession, which offers guided boat tours, and boat and bicycle rentals.

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